Friday, October 30, 2009

Stimulating

John Cassidy of the New Yorker has a post detailing the role of the Stimulus Package in yesterday's numbers revealing 3.5% annualized GDP growth in the 3rd quarter:
The three most striking figures in the G.D.P. report were that consumer spending on durable goods, such as cars and refrigerators, rose at an annualized rate of 22.3 per cent; residential investment (spending on housing) rose at an annualized rate of 23.4 per cent; and exports of goods made in the United States rose at an annualized rate of 21.4 per cent. All of these things can be traced directly to official efforts to stimulate the economy

[emphasis added]. You can read the GDP report here.

The Republic, Moral Imperatives, and The Golden Rule

Senator Tom Coburn has an illuminating profile in yesterday’s New York Times. I say illuminating because it makes plain his disdain for Congress, his colleagues, and basically anything he doesn’t like. Indeed, the reporter does not address and Sen. Coburn does not provide an explanation for seemingly chronic obstructionism except to imply that someone has to do it.

Beyond stifling the democratic process and abusing the privilege of his position he also makes at least one ridiculous statement. Towards the end of the article, in explanation for his opposition to healthcare reform, he says, “If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issue. That is the biggest moral issue of our time.” If he expounds on this statement the reporter declined to include it. I dare say the reporter couldn’t include any exposition on the statement because it’s patently false as Coburn has framed it.

To my knowledge no republic has gone broke and suddenly died. There have been crises, massive loans, and rescues but not sudden death. Much to the contrary republics have “died” because of the income polarization of the haves and have-nots. Two prime examples include the French Revolution and even, to a lesser degree, the American Revolution. When the wealth of a nation is to consolidated in the upper rungs of the income ladder. When the poor get poorer, and when the government refuses to address this inequity you get revolution. Anyone would be hard pressed to say that one’s level of income has no connection to the level of healthcare they receive. Sen. Coburn would have you think that providing healthcare to the have-nots would lead to the end of our republic, when history teaches us that the exact opposite is true.

Sen. Coburn also calls this the “biggest moral issue of our time.” Now it’s unclear if he means the fiscal issue is the greatest moral issue or if he means the survival of the republic, a survival he falsely sees threatened by healthcare reform, is a great moral issue. What is clear is that for him there is not morality involved as it relates to ensuring basic healthcare to all US citizens. This seems entirely backward to me.

I balk at anyone suggesting the survival of our republic is a moral imperative. It implies a level of hubris regarding out own form of democracy that is dangerous and untethered from the reality of the imperfections in our system. It also assigns a kind of spiritual superiority to our system of government which complicates compromise. Of course, it’s not as if Sen. Coburn spends much time worrying about compromise anyway.

Instead, if one were to bring morality into the healthcare debate, it is the morality spoken of so eloquently by the late Robert F. Kennedy. Our moral imperative is to our fellow man, our fellow citizen. We are obligated by our interconnection as people to do what we can to provide for our neighbor when he or she can not provide for themselves. Why is this a moral imperative? Why in our hyper-capitalist society, built on ferocious individualism should we care for our neighbor? Because there could come a day where any one of us falls on hard times and needs a helping hand. I’m not a tremendously religious person. I don’t attend Bible study every Sunday as Sen. Coburn does, but I remember the golden rule. Treat others as you, yourself would like to be treated. Perhaps if Sen. Coburn heard "no" as much as he said "no" he would be a more humble public servant and more compassionate elected representative of this republic.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Game One

This blog is dedicated to politics and policy. And, let's be honest, it focuses on foreign policy. But I can't help but remark on last night's Game One of the World Series.

I'm a Yankees fan. So last night's Game One loss to the Philadelphia Phillies is, to put it mildly, disappointing. That said, Cliff Lee pitched a heck of a game. It is rare enough for a pitcher to go a full nine innings during the season, for Cliff Lee to go the distance in Game One of the World Series, against the Bronx Bombers, at Yankee Stadium is impressive. Much respect, Cliff Lee. Much respect.

That said, Yanks in 5.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pawlenty, the Right, and the Dangerous Game

Joe Klein, in condemning Bill O'Reilly and the folks at Fox News, is more strident than I was when condemning Gov. Tim Pawlenty in this space a few days ago:

I'd say that the constant wink-wink implications that the President is (a) a communist or socialist, (b) not an American, (c) maybe a Muslim, (d) a friend of terrorists, (e) a front man who is taking orders from...others, (f) committed to misreading or abrogating the Constitution of the United States or (g) a threat to our basic institutions--these approach sedition. [emphasis added]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Painful Status Quo

The miserable state of political discourse in this country is well described by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker through a review of Cass Sunstein's new book On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done. This, I think, is a fair assessment of the madness:
Sunstein himself has recently been the object of a right-wing disinformation campaign. As soon as word got out that he was going to be nominated by the Obama Administration to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the American Conservative Union set up a Web site on him. It was called stopsunstein.com.
. . . [F]inally, Fox News’s Glenn Beck got into the act, exhorting, in a Twitter message to his supporters, “FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN.” (In an interesting twist on group polarization, some liberal bloggers, who had initially not been keen on Sunstein’s nomination, decided at this point that it must be O.K.; as one of them put it, “If Glenn Beck and the other loons are against him, how bad could he be?”)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Corroding America

The Hill reports today that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), in an interview with Newsmax magazine, said the President is “corrosive to the . . . pillars of our country – to markets, private enterprise, individual responsibility, freedom and liberty.”

To describe any public figure as “corrosive” to the “pillars of our country” cannot be dismissed as mere political rhetoric. Such an attack is—and can only be viewed as—a sweeping broadside designed to undermine the President and establish him as an “other.” If there were any question remaining whether Rep. Pawlenty would seek the 2012 Republican nomination, he has now disabused America of it.

It is, though, disingenuous (and, potentially, dangerous) for Gov. Pawlenty to describe President Obama as “corrosive” to such things as “markets, private enterprise, individual responsibility, freedom and liberty.” Indeed, were the nonsensical accusations of socialism not treated as reasonable, honest concerns by news organizations, remarks like Pawlenty’s would be laughable. Unfortunately, as we have seen over the course of the last several months, such ridiculousness must be refuted.

Under the banner of the free market, fiscal responsibility, freedom and liberty, Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for cutting taxes while engaging in incredibly reckless, unwarranted and voluntary deficit spending (see, e.g., Operation Iraqi Freedom). Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for corporate welfare both through no-bid contracts (see, e.g., Haliburton) and through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (yes, passed by a Democratic Congress but orchestrated, signed, and necessitated by a Republican administration). Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for the Patriot Act, Warrantless Wire Tapping, Free-Speech Zones, and eight of the most damaging years to the Constitution.

Pawlenty thus desires the mantle of a party more aptly described by his anti-Obama abuse than the target of said abuse. In short, Pawlenty will not only prove to ultimately be corrosive to America, he represents a party that has proven itself already corrosive to America, its values, its primacy, its national security, and its economy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

People’s War Awareness

In the New Yorker, Steve Coll deconstructs the Pashto-language “Book of Rules” distributed by the Taliban’s Military Committee to its fighters over the summer. The excerpts Coll points to demonstrate that the Taliban’s Military Committee at least is well aware of the importance of its fighters relationship with the civilian Afghan population. That the Taliban Military Committee is cognizant of the feedback loop inherent in its people’s war underscores the importance of a US strategy hyperaware of its affect on the Afghan population.

Coll’s article is also a timely reminder for the Obama administration and its critics that the Taliban, too, engage in strategy reviews and that arriving at correct—as opposed to quick, reflexive—conclusions is what yields success.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Long is Too Long?

Over the last few weeks, as President Obama has been engaged in a review of the Afghan strategy, many commentators have breathlessly suggested that “he’s taking too long.” This criticism is wholly unfounded.

By way of comparison, the Bush administration kicked off its review of strategy in Iraq by appointing the Iraq Study Group in March of 2006. The ISG spent nine months meeting, taking evidence, and debating strategy before publishing its report and recommendations on December 6, 2006. The Bush administration then ignored the ISG’s findings and recommendations, and then took another five weeks before President Bush announced the Surge strategy on January 10, 2007.

Additionally, the war conditions in Afghanistan are markedly different from those in Iraq. As I’ve pointed out before, the conditions in Afghanistan are such that fighting effectively ceases during the winter months – medieval though it may seem, there is an actual fighting season in Afghanistan. Combined with the amount of time necessary to deploy additional resources in Afghanistan, the regularized fighting season gives this administration plenty of time to review the strategy it inherited from the Bush administration and come to grips with the critical question of the Afghan campaign: what is the United States’ goal? It must be from the answer to that question that strategic, tactical, and resource decisions flow.

None of this is to suggest that the Afghan strategy review should not be approach with a sense of urgency. It absolutely should. However, the review process has not taken too long—in this case, effective solutions are of greater utility than quick answers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Civilian Component of COIN

The New York Times has a dour report on the civilian component of COIN operations in Afghanistan. One of the many difficulties of counter insurgency is that it necessarily implicates non-security disciplines, technical and governance capacity building. Without those components, the security component of COIN is simply tilting at windmills. Without providing security stability is impossible, effective governance and technical capacity building become irrelevant—and, particularly in the American division of labor, results in gross stagnation of those efforts. The two prongs of COIN are bound-up together and both are necessary for any successful effort.

The Times report describes a deteriorating situation, though it reads as it may be a bit of hyperbole. More worrying is that the civilian efforts themselves—aside from the question of those efforts reaching the Afghan people due to security concerns—may be insufficient:
Henry Crumpton, a former top C.I.A. and State Department official who is an informal adviser to General McChrystal, called those stepped-up efforts inadequate. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of civilians are in Kabul, and the overwhelming majority never leave their compounds,” said Mr. Crumpton, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan. “Our entire system of delivering aid is broken, and very little of the aid is getting to the Afghan people.”
While the number of civilian advisors seems doubtlessly anemic, the harsh Afghan winter and the regularized annual fighting season gives the United States nearly a six month window of opportunity to not only revise the strategy brought to bear in Afghanistan but to deploy the troops and technocrats necessary to implement that strategy effectively.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Holbrooke in the New Yorker

Last week's New Yorker has an excellent profile on Richard Holbrooke, the United States Special Representative to Af-Pak:
Kissinger once said, “If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just
say yes. If you say no, you’ll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be
very painful.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Strategic Depths

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article analyzing the evolution of American strategy in Afghanistan through the lens of a firefight that occurred a year ago in Nuristan province. That firefight featured a large, well coordinated assault on an American outpost, nearly overrunning that outpost and killing 9 US troops. The next day, an eerily similar assault occurred in the same province – this one, a coordinated assault on two American outposts – killing 8 US troops.

This weekend’s assault, coming during the Obama administration’s high-profile Afghan strategy review, will doubtlessly focus attention on the controversial question of whether to deploy more US troops to Afghanistan. I’ve advocated for that as part of a broader counter insurgency strategy in the past – and I continue to believe that that is the correct approach for the situation at hand.

In fact, the New York Times article reporting this weekend’s assault on the American outposts featured comments from the Governor of Nuristan, Jamaluddin Badar:
The fighters had come from Pakistan, [Mr. Badar] said, after military operations pushed them out of their bases there. He said the strike was led by a Taliban commander named Dost Muhammad, whom he described as the shadow commander for the Taliban in Nuristan.
I have argued in the past that, as the Afghan Taliban have used Pakistan for safe-haven and strategic depth, so will the Pakistani Taliban, should the United States abandon Afghanistan. I have also argued that which side of the border functions as a safe-haven for the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban depends on the level of pressure exerted by anti-Taliban forces in the neighboring state. Mr. Badar’s comments apparently bear this argument out and demonstrate that Pakistan’s on-going push against the Pakistani Taliban is having an effect.

Rather than react to the coordinated assaults on its outposts in Nuristan, the United States should recognize that the fight in Pakistan and the fight in Afghanistan are integrally related. Here, now, the stability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are at stake. The United States should reinforce its position, provide sufficient troops and civilian assistance to wage an effective counter insurgency, and to aid Pakistan by denying the Pakistani Taliban Afghan breathing room.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being Named Mehsud May Be Hazardous To Your Health

The AFP and BBC report that the younger brother of Kalimullah Mehsud, younger brother of Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a clash with Pakistani forces in North Waziristan on Monday. Hakimullah Mehsud, the late Kalimullah’s older brother, is the current leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban – commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban. Hakimullah inherited his job from Baitullah Mehsud who was killed by a drone strike in August.

Faced with the ongoing joint US-Pakistani pursuit of Pakistani Taliban, it’s becoming quite dangerous to be a Mehsud in Pakistan.